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Early childhood adversity and adolescent depression: the mediating role of continued stress

  • N. A. Hazel (a1), C. Hammen (a1), P. A. Brennan (a2) and J. Najman (a3)

While various conceptualizations of the link between childhood adversity and later depression have been offered, most have not accounted for the possibility that early adversity predicts continuing stress proximal to depression onset. Thus, the present study tested the possible mediating role of recent stress in the association between early adversity and depression in late adolescence.


Study questions were examined in a longitudinal community sample of 705 youth who were contemporaneously assessed for early adversity exposure prior to age 5 years, chronic and episodic stress at age 15 years, and major depression prior to age 15 years and between 15 and 20 years.


Total youth stress burden at age 15 years mediated the effect of early adversity on depression between ages 15 and 20 years, and none of the observed relationships were moderated by onset of depression prior to age 15 years.


These findings suggest that continued stress exposure proximal to depression onset largely accounts for the association between early adversity and depression in late adolescence. Intervention should thus focus on disrupting the continuity of stressful conditions across childhood and adolescence. Future studies of the neurobiological and psychosocial mechanisms of the link between early experiences and depression should explore whether the effects of early experiences are independent of continuing adversity proximal to depressive onset.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: C. Hammen, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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